Great 1962 crime novel: The Hunter, by Richard Stark

After reading Donald Westlake's The Hot Rock (read my review), a humorous crime novel about a gang of professional thieves who repeatedly bungle a jewel heist, I picked up Westlake's The Hunter, a much less funny, but equally enjoyable, 1962 novel about a sociopathic thief named Parker, who is the main character in many of Westlake's crime stories. (Westlake wrote the Parker series under the pen name Richard Stark, one of many pen names he adopted during his prolific career.)

The Hunter is about Parker's quest to get revenge on a partner who ripped him off and tried to have him killed right after Parker and his crew robbed a gang of arms smugglers. Parker doesn't let anyone impede his mission, even if it means killing an innocent person who just happens to be in the way.

At one point while reading The Hunter I contemplated abandoning it because I was bothered by Parker's psychotic disregard for human life, but two reasons kept me going. One, the people that Parker is going after are even more despicably inhuman than he is. And two, Westlake is such a terrific writer I couldn't stop myself from reading to find our what happens.

Parker fits in with the current crop of charismatic sociopaths that headline shows like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, and Dexter. I guess their appeal is that even though they are awful people, they have just enough humanity to make you care what happens to them without actually rooting for them. It takes a skilled writer to create bad people that you care about, and Westlake is one of the greats. I've started the second novel in the Parker series. I'll let you know what I think when I'm finished reading it.

The Hunter: A Parker Novel, by Richard Stark


  1. As a friend who recommended it pointed out, it’s some of the leanest prose imaginable. It’s a thin book, and nothing is extra. 

    Darwyn Cooke’s books do a great job recreating the stories as noirish graphic novels. He’s done three so far, and I think it’s a great medium for Parker. 

    “Point Blank” was remade by Mel Gibson, as well, and Jason Statham just made a movie, “Parker,” based on a later Parker novel. Parker, however, does not have an English accent, so it’s didn’t work for me (he also tries a terrible Texan accent).

    1. I was going to say, reminds me of ‘Payback’ with Mel Gibson.  Is that the movie adaptation/remake you are referring to or did he do another bad-guy protag film?

      1. Yes–Point Blank and Payback are both adaptations of The Hunter. And Payback has a ‘director’s cut’ (which, IMHO, is horrible). Payback is one of my favorite movies. Point Blank is also very good, although a bit campy due to when it was made. 

  2. He also (as Stark) wrote three or four books starring Parker’s sometime-partner Alan Grofield, which are OK but not nearly as good as the Parker books.

    I read these (and Westlake’s Dortmunder books) for the first time a couple years ago and enjoyed both series. They are almost funhouse-mirror images of each other. (In fact, I think there is an elusive Dortmunder book out there that features a Parker book-within-the-book.)

  3. Darwyn Cooke is one of my favorite comic book artists, and while crime isn’t a genre I read in novels, it’s one I do seem to enjoy in graphic novels. I highly recommend the adaptations, Cooke is his usual outstanding self.

  4. May I recommend Patricia Highsmith’s excellently socio/psycho-pathic Ripley series (aka the Ripliad)
    also turned into some excellent movies, The American Friend by Wim Wenders, remains a firm personal favourite.

  5. I love the Parker novels, the hunter is arguably the best. He is such a cool character, he has his code and breaks heads. Fantastic. I really enjoyed The Seventh too a minor Parker novel in some ways but it’s plot is pretty tight.

  6. Makes me think of Stephen King’s “The Dark Half” where he writes about a failing writer who creates a pen name under which he writes ultra-violent crime novels.  The pen name is George Stark.  Wonder if these Parker novels were any inspiration?  

    1. King is a big crime fiction fan, and he’s started dabbling in it himself–he wrote The Colorado Kid (it’s interesting to look at the Amazon reviews–there are almost equal amounts in all five star categories) and has another one coming up called Joyland. Some of his short stories also fall into that category; “Dolan’s Cadillac” is a revenge story that Parker could appreciate, and “The Ledge” is another good one. 

  7. Oh, baby! Stark is the hardest of the hard-boiled novelists. The whole series is remarkable and well worth the time. Glad they are being reissued as the original paperbacks were only published once (for the most part) and for many years were very expensive. I second the Point Blank film adaptation, but I’m more impressed with the graphic novels that have been coming out recently. Have fun, Mark!

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